Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 14th March 2022
Based on the film Clue, which of course was based on the board game of the same name, this hilarious adaptation reworks Jonathan Lynn’s screenplay for the stage. Sandy Rustin’s script anglicises the screenplay, retaining Lynn’s wit, wordplay, and snappy dialogue, adhering to the ludicrous plot and adding inventive theatricality to suit the new medium. Director Mark Bell ensures the cast is kept busy with comic business and general running around – the grotesque tableaux around the dining table, for example, or the slow-motion when a chandelier comes down…
A disparate bunch of strangers assembles at a country house on a stormy night. Events are orchestrated by Wadsworth, the butler, in a gem of a performance by Jean-Luc Worrel, who is cheerfully ominous, moving in measured strides. Never mind murder, he steals the show.
At this performance, the role of the maid Yvette, who keeps forgetting she’s supposed to be French, is played by Georgia Bradley, who is also consistently funny.
Leading the company is Michelle Collins in a drop-dead red dress as Miss Scarlet, but truly this is an ensemble piece, with everyone given the chance to shine. Wesley Griffith is a hoot as the nice-but-dim Colonel Mustard; Etisyai Phillips is great value as a strident Mrs White; Judith Amsenga is hugely enjoyable as the haughty but hypocritical Mrs Peacock; Daniel Casey makes a strong impression as the posturing Professor Plum; and I must make special mention of Tom Babbage in the role of Reverend Green for his physical comedy and general falling over.
David Farley’s ingenious set opens up to reveal the various rooms we expect to see from the board game. As the guests tear from room to room, they have to take the furniture with them, adding to the frenzy of activity. Thunder, lightning and musical stings punctuate the action, adding to the silliness.
It’s all completely daft and very, very funny, and it’s a joy to watch broad comedy so well performed, with exquisite timing from all and sundry. Not so much a murder-mystery as a well-oiled farce, Cluedo is a real scream.
Sean McKenna’s adaptation of Peter James’s novel is doing the rounds. It’s a Reader’s Digest version of the book, rattling through the plot at a rate of knots. There is no time for nuance and the dialogue is limited to only that which moves things forwards. But then you don’t come to these things for subtlety. What we do get is a cracking, fast-moving thriller that keeps us guessing and offers up a few surprises.
With Ian Beale (Adam Woodyatt) and his most recent on-screen Mrs (Laurie Brett) leading the cast as Tom and Kellie Brice, the play looks and sounds like a cranked-up episode of EastEnders, and indeed the acting style is not far removed from the world of soap. Woodyatt/Beale is exactly as you would expect, and he does a good job of alternating between sarcasm and desperation. Brett has more of a stretch, as the compulsive cleaner, reformed alcoholic Kellie. Completing the household is Luke Ward-Wilkinson as their 17 year old son, Max, who manages to come across as younger and younger as the action hots up.
The plot kicks off with Ian Beale bringing home a USB stick he found on a train. He recruits Max to help him access the content, with a view to returning it to the owner. They stumble across very dark material indeed, namely a live feed of a young woman being killed. Is it a fake? Is it special effects? Meanwhile, poor Ian is struggling to find clients for his business, and Jonas Kent (Ian Houghton) happens along and it looks like the Beale-Brices are out of the woods. But then Max receives a warning from the online killers…
If you switch your brain off and go along for the ride, this is a hugely enjoyable ride. Director Jonathan O’Boyle serves up suspense by the bucketful, and there’s a lot of fun to be had by trying to second-guess the plot (which I succeed in doing, if I may brag for a second!)
Recurring character Detective Superintendent Roy Grace (played this time by Harry Long) indulges in a lot of banter with his subordinates, Leon Stewart and Gemma Stroyan, adding humour to the mix as well as police-procedural jargon for authenticity. Mylo McDonald brings an air of menace as online killer Mick, who is Oirish so of course he’s called Mick.
Michael Holt’s set effectively separates the action from the on-screen and the off, while Max Pappenheim’s sound design underscores the action, although some of the ‘stings’ are a bit on the nose, veering us into the realms of melodrama.
This fast-paced roller-coaster doesn’t allow time to mull over the convenience of some of the plot points, but this isn’t True Crime, it’s crime as entertainment and as such, it fills its remit admirably. Super fun!
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 26th November 2021
Forget the Coca-Cola trucks! You know when Christmas is definitely coming when the Belgrade opens its pantomime.
Back again for the umpteenth year are writer-director-dame Iain Lauchlan and his partner in crime, Craig Hollingsworth. Separately and as a double act, these two embody the spirit of panto in Coventry, and it’s an absolute treat to see them back live on stage.
Appearing as Dame Dolly Mixture, Lauchlan is tirelessly funny, sporting a range of outfits based on sweets and chocolates, each one a delightful confection. Lauchlan’s dame always has a twinkle in her eye and something saucy to say. Paired with Hollingsworth’s Silly Billy, this is a dream team, bringing all the well-worn, well-loved and well funny panto elements to the stage, including a mandatory slosh scene involving mops, and the traditional word play, audience engagement…Lauclan’s script fizzles with jokes old and new. Clearly, Hollingsworth is in his element, getting annoyed with the audience and complaining about being made to look silly. A fast-paced song about alternative career paths for the cast is an hilarious highlight.
Another joy to watch is Peter Watts as bombastic narcissist Maurice, in a larger-than-life performance that comes close to stealing the show. He is teamed with sidekick Grub, played by the excellent Miriam Grace Edwards—it’s great to see her return to the Belgrade stage.
Katy Anna Southgate’s Enchantress is a striking figure in a beautiful purple gown; it’s a pity we don’t get to hear her sing until the finale.
The panto fun is interspersed with the darker plot line of the fairy tale. It begins with a Prince (Samuel Lake) being beastly to a peasant (Louie Wood). As punishment for his lack of compassion, the Enchantress turns the Prince into a hideous beast for five hundred years. The Beast is played with gusto by Sion Lloyd, whose scary speaking voice is offset by his beautiful, powerful singing. Ruby Eva’s Beauty is as pretty and sweet as you’d expect, while David Gilbrook as her bewildered father Harold dodders around endearingly. But, let’s face it, you don’t go to the panto for the plot! The tonal gear change between anarchic silliness and emotional drama is sometimes too sharp. It’s almost as though we’re switching between two different shows.
Somehow, Lauchlan manages to marry all the elements to bring the story to its happy ending, complete with a rousing rendition of S Club 7’s Reach For The Stars, which you’ll be singing all the way home.
On the whole, it’s a joyous experience and production values are high, courtesy of the Belgrade’s in-house workshop, from the glow-in-the-dark dancing skeletons to the lavish costumes and fairytale scenery.
The annual treat of the Belgrade pantomime is not cancelled, thank goodness, but is available to stream from the theatre’s website into the comfort (or otherwise) of your own home. Panto without audience participation might seem like the odds are stacked against it, but such is the effectiveness of this specially filmed production, you barely miss the auditorium.
The mighty Iain Lauchlan has been the engine, the heart and the soul of the Belgrade’s panto for over a quarter of a century now, and the film begins with him strolling onto a bare stage and gazing out at the empty stalls. Voices and laughter from previous productions can be heard. It’s quite a downbeat start, reflecting the sadness the entire industry must be feeling this year, but the mood instantly picks up when he sits on the edge of the stage alongside his longtime comedy partner, Craig Hollingsworth, who has an idea of how the pantomime can still go ahead this year: stream it online. At once, you can see the chemistry between these two; their partnership is the biggest draw for me to keep going to Coventry every year. Their effortless banter and crosstalk is second-to-none.
And so the panto proper begins, with Lauchlan as the Fairy narrator, able to use her wand for digital effects you can’t get in the theatre. The set and costumes are very much what you’d expect to find on stage but crucially the performance style has been altered to suit the screen. The acting is still non-naturalistic, but its heightened just enough to maximise the comedy without going over the top. Addressing the audience is replaced by direct-to-camera and this works brilliantly for Dame Trott’s monologues (Iain Lauchlan is the consummate dame) and also for quick asides and punchlines. Craig Hollingsworth, usually called upon to be a master of crowd control, here demonstrates another impressive set of skills, those of acting for and to the lens. I did not think these two could get any higher in my estimation, but they’ve done exactly that.
With Lauchlan and Hollingsworth playing most of the parts (due to the necessity of having limited numbers permitted in rehearsals) this is a real showcase for their talents. They are joined by perky principal boy, Morna Macpherson as Jack Trott, with Arina Li as the feisty Princess. Trish Adudu is somewhat underused as the Giant’s wife, appearing in a Zoom call with Hollingsworth’s Fleshcreep (who reminds me of Dave Hill from Slade!) The troupe of young dancers is led by the dashing Ayden Morgan, adding to the vibrancy of this colourful and inventive production.
Lauchlan’s script is bang up-to-date, riddled with topical references, as befits any panto worth its salt. He has always been an innovative panto creator and this year, more than ever, his ability to marry traditional tropes with technical advancements is crucial. Everything is so well thought out. Even Daisy the cow’s costume has been amended to include social distancing for her front and back legs! There is plenty of slapstick and silliness, along with saucier jokes for the adults, and it’s all splendidly directed (by Paul Gibson) to suit the medium.
This is by no means a question of performing a panto and standing a camera in front of it. This is a true marriage of form and content, of timeless tradition and contemporary communications.
It’s available to stream for the whole month of December from belgrade.co.uk so people far beyond the bounds of Coventry can get to see it, and it’s excellent value and an absolute scream. Oh yes it is.
Continuing the fad of adapting films into musicals comes this staging of John Carney’s 2007 film, which at least had original songs. These have been developed into a full score (by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) and although the action takes place in Dublin it’s not all diddly diddly dee – although there is some of that to give local flavour. Enda Walsh’s book is brimming with wit, warmth and charm.
An Irish pub forms the backdrop, the kind of place where everyone can sing and play a musical instrument; the ensemble remain onstage throughout, observing like a silent chorus, reacting with subtle choreography, and contributing physical theatre where necessary, as well as shifting furniture and pianos and so on to keep the story flowing.
The story is a little slight: girl meets boy, helps him reconnect with his musical ambitions, setting him up for a life-changing trip to New York City…
The boy, or ‘Guy’ as he is referred to in the programme, is a vacuum cleaner repairman, disillusioned with busking and his musical aspirations. He is about to walk away from his guitar for good when up steps the ‘Girl’, a kooky Czech lass who imposes herself on him with unrelenting directness, in a resistance-is-futile kind of way. The result is a sweet and gentle love story, infused with a vibrant, rich score of pop songs and ballads, informed by Irish and Czech traditions. It is lovely stuff.
As the ‘Guy’ Daniel Healy is the least kooky of the lot, and it’s a treat to hear him sing and play. His numbers smack of Damien Rice – and this is a good thing, as Healy’s voice builds in power and expression and the ensemble joins in. Searing and emotive, the songs get you right in the feels.
The ‘Girl’ is winningly portrayed by Emma Lucia, getting lots of laughs from her character rather than from a comedy Czech accent. She sings very sweetly and when she duets with Healy, it confirms our suspicions that the two are made for each other.
Among the ensemble there are notable turns from the likes of Dan Bottomley as music shop proprietor Billy, Samuel Martin as a bank manager who can’t sing (a hilarious number!), and Susannah van den Berg as the formidable Baruska, the Girl’s mother. Lloyd Gorman makes a strong impression as Svec, ripping his trousers off to play the drums and learning English from a tawdry soap opera. In this performance, the sultry role of Reza is played by Hanna Khogali, bringing an exotic touch to proceedings – the show demonstrates how music unites us, wherever we’re from. It is part of what makes us human and something to which we can all relate.
A toe-tapping, hand-clapping, heart-warming production that celebrates differences between cultures while reinforcing the similarities between us all.
Dublin duo: Emma Lucia as Girl and Daniel Healy as Guy (Photo: Mark Senior)
Robin Hawdon’s thriller from the early 1990s gets a new lease of life in this touring production from the newly-formed Crime and Comedy Theatre Company. Smarmy MP Bill Crayshaw unwisely admits an unknown woman into his swanky London flat, only for her to reveal she is a journalist keen to expose both his dodgy business practices and his involvement in the death of his party agent just the day before. To coerce him to answer, she threatens his collection of valuable knickknacks, even smashing a couple of them to pieces, and pretty soon he’s singing like a canary – but, it soon transpires, it’s to his own tune rather than hers.
After a slow start with lashings of exposition, the first act builds to a violent end with gunshots and one of this cat-and-mouse pair on the floor…
Nigel Fairs is effortlessly arrogant as the duplicitous MP (is there another kind?) while Kate Ashmead exhibits sadistic pleasure as ‘Mary’ toying and flirting with her quarry.
As with plays of this type, there is more to it, with twists and turns, shifts of power and reversals of fortune – necessitating further passages of wordy exposition, yet director Louis Jameson (formerly Leela off of Doctor Who, no less!) wisely never lets proceedings become static. She also handles the big moments effectively, giving us a solid little thriller. It’s not in the same league as Dial M For Murder or Gaslight, but it’s a taut and engaging couple of hours, well played and well presented, delivering everything you expect from this kind of thing. And of course, we know better to believe a single word that comes from the mouth of a Tory MP, and there is a certain pleasure to be had watching Crayshaw squirm and try to plot his way out of trouble.
Ground-breaking it ain’t, but intriguing it certainly is.
Kate Ashmead and Nigel Fairs (Photo: David Fawbert Photography)
This is the first pantomime of the season for me and it’s a cracker. Belgrade stalwarts Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth return for the umpteenth year on the trot for the rarely staged story of a crafty cat who helps his master to social climb his way to the palace, defeating a terrible ogre along the way. The pair work superbly as a double act, with Lauchlan as the dame, Matilda Pudding, and Hollingsworth as her son, Simon. They are also superb on their own, with Hollingsworth in particular working the audience. His persona is cheeky and easily annoyed; the comic timing is impeccable. Lauchlan gives a masterclass in panto-damery, with a succession of ridiculous outfits, charming humour and an irrepressible sense of fun. Lauchlan also writes and directs, and is clearly some kind of genius.
The Puddings: Matilda (Iain Lauchlan) and Simon (Craig Hollingsworth) Photo: Robert Day
The rest of the cast, for the most part, rise to the standard of the star pair, given the stock limitations of their roles. Aimee Bevan warms into her duties as our narrator Fairy Flutterby; David Gilbrook is suitably doddery as good King Colin; and Miriam Grace Edwards makes a gutsy Princess Sophia. As the villain, evil jester Victor Grabitt, Peter Watts is enormous fun, sinister, snide and camp in the melodramatic sense, he is a joy to watch.
The chorus is fleshed out with a troupe of local children, who tackle Jenny Phillips’s choreography with panache. Among the grown-up dancers, Dylan Jones distinguishes himself with some spectacular urban moves, as well as an engaging sense of humour. Daniel Teague appears as the Ogre, in a delightfully scary moment – this show has plenty to engage the children and get them shouting and pointing at the stage.
In the title role, Joanna Thorne is dashingly heroic with a lively touch of comedy. The role is a blend of principal boy and a skin part, but it also lets girls in the audience that females can be proactive. Thorne has a strong singing voice – it’s a shame we don’t get to hear more of it.
Lauchlan’s script successfully combines traditional routines with bang up-to-date new elements: we are invited to submit ogre-faced selfies to an Instagram account during the interval; Simon Pudding first appears via face-time… Lauchlan thereby upholds the audience expectations of the form, while keeping the form fresh and current, and of course there is plenty of saucy humour to keep the adults laughing.
Non-stop fun from start to finish, this is a refreshing change from the ‘big’ pantos that always do the rounds (the Aladdins, the Cinderellas, the Dicks) and a fantastic way to get into the festive spirit. As ever, it’s great to see such a diverse audience at the Belgrade, demonstrating that pantomime truly is for everyone and that theatre can bring us together.
Joanna Thorne as Puss in Boots and Peter Watts as Grabitt (Photo: Robert Day)
Based on the popular series of children’s non-fiction books by the extremely popular and prolific Terry Deary, this show by the Birmingham Stage Company is playing in tandem with Awful Egyptians, which I imagine is just as much fun.
A cast of three, led by Doctor Dee (played in this performance by director Neal Foster) take us through the reign of the Tudors, from the defeat of Richard III at Bosworth Field through to the succession of James I after the demise of Elizabeth. Along the way, there are interludes examining other aspects of Tudor society, like the cruel punishments meted out to criminals (some hilarious practical effects here) and the disgusting elements of medical practice.
Foster is a delight, whether its in one of his many characters (including Henry VIII) or when he’s addressing the audience with a good old-fashioned ‘Shut your face!’. He is supported by a more-than-able pair, Dross (Lisa Allen) and Drab (Izaak Cainer) who take on all the other roles, as well as being enjoyable characters in their own right.
The facts come as thick and as fast as the jokes. The declamatory style of storytelling is leavened by silly voices and camp gestures, and the action is augmented by cartoony sound effects (thanks to Nick Sagar) and animated projections on the screen that forms the backdrop. The performance style owes much to Monty Python and pantomime, and the script has a touch of the Carry-Ons, without the bawdiness. There are plenty of mentions of poo and grisly deaths to keep the kids fascinated, while the adults will find much to enjoy in the execution (heh) of the comic business by these three talented players.
The second half has the added ingredient of 3D effects to make you flinch and gasp, as the Spanish Armada is blown to splinters and blood from the botched execution of Mary Queen of Scots splatters across the screen. There are catchy songs, including one to help you remember the fates of Henry VIII’s wives, and even Will. I. Am. Shakespeare crops up with a version of I Gotta Feeling. The anachronisms make the history accessible and keep the laughs coming.
And then, as the reign and life of Elizabeth come to an end, she recaps the dynasty, in a powerful moment from Lisa Allen, bringing depth and gravitas to the piece – but don’t worry, there’s another catchy song to round things off.
Thoroughly enjoyable, informative and hilarious, this Horrible History makes for Terrific Theatre.
Terrible Tudors: Lisa Allen and Izaak Cainer are armed and dangerous (Photo: Mark Douet)
Rona Munro’s new stage adaptation of the novel that gave birth to the genre of science fiction puts its author, Mary Shelley at the centre of the action. Tightly wound, spirited and full of youthful vigour, Mary is bursting with creativity as, before our very eyes, she writes the book that will render her immortal. She narrates, breaks the fourth wall, and even collaborates with her characters as she starts and stops the story – we, of course, know how it will turn out, but it’s an effective and stylish way to present events we have seen portrayed time and time again.
As Mary, Eilidh Loan is a dynamic stage presence, hugely entertaining, wry and knowing, transmitting Mary’s passion to get her story written. Her characters, seemingly under her control, are played by a strong ensemble: Ben Castle-Gibb is excellent as the driven Victor Frankenstein, showing his descent into obsession and insanity with great power; Thierry Mabonga is strong in three different roles, the salty Captain Walton, young William Frankenstein, and Victor’s best mate Henry; Greg Powrie brings authority to his roles as Victor’s father, and Waldman the doctor who recruits Victor as his assistant. Natali McCleary brings vulnerability and strength to Elizabeth, but it is Michael Moreland as the ‘Monster’ who captivates our attention, from the jerky movements that bring him to life, to his augmented voice.
Becky Minto’s wintry set is striking and functional, giving two levels and a range of possibilities; her costume designs are elegantly tailored to denote the period. Simon Slater’s discordant music and eerie sound design add to the tension, while Grant Anderson’s lighting bathes the action in cold beauty. Director Patricia Benecke makes sparing use of shadowplay and mist for atmosphere and effect, and on the whole, this is a gripping and inventive retelling. Oddly though, very little sympathy is elicited for the Monster – the script allows him no opportunity to show his potential for goodness. We only see him as a killer, an angry reject of society, and that’s a shame. It’s like he was built with a bit missing.
This production is a fresh take on the well-worn tale, in which Mary Shelley has a message for us today, for our government in particular, above and beyond the usual don’t-dabble-with-nature theme. She says, “If you neglect those you are supposed to care for, the weak, the poor, their destruction will be your shame.” The play goes to some length to bring out Shelley’s revolutionary politics. Right on!
Daddy issues: the Monster (Michael Moreland) and Victor (Ben Castle-Gibb) Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
Based on the Alfred Hitchcock film of 1938, this brand-new production from the Classic Thriller Theatre Company, begins in Austria during the Nazi occupation. Imagine, if you can, a world in which fascism is on the rise… Oh, wait. The action begins with a train being delayed – Imagine if you can, the trains not running on time – Oh, never mind! These modern parallels aside, this is an entertaining period piece, old-fashioned in both form and content.
Gwen Taylor leads the cast as the titular disappearing woman, the tweedy Miss Froy. It’s not until she does her disappearing act, that the play picks up momentum. Up until then, it’s been character after character charging around, a little too much exposition, perhaps. Taylor’s Froy is spot on for dotty old English biddy, harmless and friendly; she comes to the aid of young Iris, who is, rather contrivedly, bashed on the head at the station. Scarlett Archer does all the right things as the plucky damsel, distressed over the old biddy’s disappearance, while everyone around her denies Miss Froy even existed. It’s an intriguing mystery and keeps us interested. Director Roy Marsden does a bang-up job of bringing matters to a head by the end of the first act, with Iris’s desperation rising to a crescendo amid the consternation of everyone else.
The rest of the company includes some stalwarts of this kind of thing: the mighty Denis Lill is paired up with Ben Nealon as a pair of cricket-obsessed duffers who provide much of the show’s comedic moments; Mark Wynter combines silver foxiness with arrogance as an adulterous barrister, while Rosie Thomson is suitably despairing as his embittered mistress. There is a cold, chilling turn from Andrew Lancel as dodgy Doctor Hartz, while Joe Reisig makes for an imposing presence as a Nazi official striding around as if he owns the train. Providing support for Iris is the funny, handsome and charming Max (played by the funny, handsome and charming Nicholas Audley).
The transmutable set, designed by Morgan Large, serves as both station and train, including compartments, is impressive and, coupled with lighting effects from Charlie Morgan Jones, sound effects by Dan Samson, and subtle bobbing on the spot by the cast, the sensation of being on a train is superbly evoked. Antony Lampard’s adaptation of the screenplay has a bit too much of the characters describing what they can see happening through the windows of the train but, that aside, the story builds to a climactic and thrilling gunfight and reaches a pleasingly romantic resolution.
Solid and dependable fare, the play delivers what you expect, with high quality production values and a skilled and effective cast. Reliably gripping, this is an enjoyable night at the theatre.
Scarlett Archer and Nicholas Audsley are not convinced by the delay-repay scheme